Morning Glory

Gasser

Morning Glory (1933)

     I am a little puzzled by 1933’s Morning Glory. It was the source of Katharine Hepburn‘s first Oscar win, but the film itself is quite underwhelming and borderline bad. I also perceive this as something that had Hepburn done it later in her career, the Academy would not even have sniffed in her direction come awards season.

     Hepburn is Eva Lovelace, a young woman from a small town in Vermont who seeks a career on the New York stage. She received positive reviews in small productions at home and is highly convinced of her talents, if only she could get a break. Eva is also supremely talkative. She makes fast friends with an older actor while in the office of a Broadway producer and before he can get a work in edgewise demands he give her speaking lessons for free until she can afford to pay for them. This man, R.H. Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith) introduces the girl to the producer Louis Easton, played by Adolphe Menjou, and a playwriter Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Before departing the office where she is told there are not parts for her, Eva walks right into Easton’s office and says her farewells to the bigwig and Joseph.

     We jump to some months later when Hedges finds Eva in a diner drinking coffee, clearly her only sustenance for the day. She’s wearing the same dress we saw before but claims that she has been in and out of work on the stage. Apparently, Easton had given her a try in a small role in which she failed “to make good.” Hedges ends up taking the young woman to a party at Easton’s home where guests are celebrating the successful debut of a play written by Joseph. At this party, Eva gets drunk before fatherly figures Easton and Hedges can get a plate of food to her and while out of sight from Joseph, who has clearly taken a shine to the girl. Once sauced, Eva pets Easton’s head, puts on two Shakespearean performances and passes out at the producer’s feet. A servant is instructed to put Eva in “the” bed.

     In the morning, Easton reveals to Joseph he has “gotten involved” with a girl and needs his pal to deliver a note or possibly an envelope of money to the dame. When Joseph learns the chick is Eva, he is upset and tells Easton of his feelings. Coming down from her slumber, the aspiring actress talks to Joseph about her ambitions for a happy, successful life with Easton before departing.

     Next up is a montage of some small-town productions to which Eva has been relegated because of her Broadway failures. Somehow, however, she has also been cast in a bit-part for Joseph’s new show. When the leading lady (Mary Duncan) makes severe contract demands before the curtain opens on the first show, she is ousted and Joseph puts Eva in, where she gives a roaringly good performance. The movie concludes with Hedges and Easton warning the girl not to be a “morning glory” that fades away quickly after coming into the spotlight. Joseph then declares his love, but Eva does not want it. The scene fades out on Eva yelling how she is not afraid to be a morning glory and will spend all her money on extravagant things.

     Hopefully I conveyed in my synopsis the sort of sloppiness of this story. Firstly, I found it bizarre how a Broadway producer would behave so caringly for some nobody actress, hundreds of which pass through his office daily. Most theater-based movies depict the lofty producer to which no one can get close enough for a chance. Here, Menjou comes off as a man unnaturally fatherly toward what seems to be a talentless child. Unlike most movies about girls looking to become stage stars, Eva does not show promise or make a smash right off, which makes it also unlikely that the characters would keep giving her chances or thinking she has something in her. As for the closing sequence with congratulations being overshadowed by stern warnings not to quickly become a has-been, well that was harsh. And Hepburn’s declaration that she will be frivolous with her fame is also a what-the-hell moment. The romantic plot with Fairbanks is also poorly conveyed. We know right off he will love Eva because that’s just what happens in these movies, but one never really feels like anything solid exists there.

     Morning Glory was Hepburn’s fourth film, although it was released with two others in her second year in Hollywood, so she did well to take an Oscar so early. She also won critical acclaim for Little Women and Christopher Strong that year. Her performance here is a good one and highlights how different she was from other actresses with her funny voice and unique face. There were only two other nominees in the Best Actress category this year, but because I have not seen Lady for a Day or Cavalcade, I cannot surmise why Hepburn might have beat out the other two. Hepburn certainly gave grander performances down the road that make Morning Glory look like nothing special, but as a new star on the scene, I can understand why Hollywood was mesmerised.

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3 Responses

  1. Must say I’d be really interested to see this one, both as an early Hepburn role and because as it sounds as if the theme has some similarities with ‘A Star Is Born’ and ‘What Price Hollywood’… and it is directed by Lowell Sherman, who was great as an actor in WPH. I will try not to expect too much from it after your warning comments… but I’m definitely intrigued!

    • I have not seen “What Price Hollywood”, but I can tell you as it relates to “A Star is Born” “Morning Glory” is not nearly as entertaining. The drama is almost nonexistent. You’re right to not get your hopes up, but I agree that early Hepburn is something everyone should check out.

  2. The problem with “Morning Glory”, as you mentioned, rest mainly with the story. Hepburn is intriguing as Eva, while the character of Eva is more annoying than endearing.

    I usually don’t fuss about Academy decisions, but May Robson was robbed!

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